Tolerance

In-the-practice-ofNot everyone is going to like us, get us, understand us, see us clearly, or dig where we’re coming from, that’s just reality, and we aren’t going to understand everyone we encounter, either. I think making the attempt is the thing.

I definitely don’t expect everyone to like everything I write, for example. I put my heart out there, and sometimes I don’t do a great job of getting the feelings and thoughts from my head and my heart into words on a screen; I can live with that. I love and welcome a respectful dialogue about different ideas and opinions. Sometimes someone has a perspective that’s so unique, it makes me think about something in an entirely different way, and I’ll tell you, when I write and when I’m teaching yoga, one of my big goals is not to leave anyone out. I know that’s hoping for a lot, but I always try to think about all kinds of people — people who are happy, people who are suffering, those who’ve endured knifing losses, and those who’ve been spared, those who grew up immersed in love, and those who’ve had to teach it to themselves. I don’t want to alienate anyone.

Sometimes people cling to their ideas like a shield, you just can’t offer a differing opinion, it bounces off, and that’s okay, although I don’t think it’s ideal. It’s just that sometimes a person needs to grip their beliefs to get through. If they drop a particular idea, their whole life philosophy falls apart. Maybe they have coping mechanisms they need at this point in time, but I think it’s going to create problems for a person who can’t even entertain a different way of thinking about something over the long haul because in order to hold onto to their beliefs, in order to make the pieces fit, they have to reject anything that calls those beliefs into question. If someone doesn’t agree, they’re wrong, or they’re the enemy, or they’re blind, or lost or confused. A differing opinion or choice feels like a judgment against them.

I see this on the micro-level, between family members who stop speaking to each other because they dig their heels in. This thing happened, and they’re so attached to holding onto their story about why they’re right and their brother or sister or mother or father or son or daughter is wrong, they forget about the human being(s) they’re sacrificing in order to keep the story of their rightness. Everyone screws up. Everyone. We all say things and do things and think about things in a heated way sometimes. We get bogged down in layers of subconscious rage or pain or ideas we have about injustices that have been perpetrated against us, and sometimes we drag a lot of history into the present moment. You can’t turn back time. You can’t undo something you said or did, or something someone else said or did. You can only work with what is, and where to go from here, but angry stories aren’t going to show up by your bedside to hold your hand one day when you really need it. They aren’t going to cover you with a blanket, and rest a cool hand on your forehead. We don’t have to agree all the time to love each other, and to treat one another with respect and kindness.

If family members struggle with these things, then of course friends will, also, and acquaintances, and you can bet strangers will. Then you start adding borders and different countries and different languages, and you can see how this can lead to trouble. We’re so quick to categorize people, to assume we know, to label someone and check the box. Sometimes people rage, or vent, or call names, because they can’t see the eyes of the person they’re attacking anymore. Intolerance divides us, it creates an us, and a them and makes conversation impossible and obsolete.

When we dehumanize people, we can ignore them or hurt them. We take ourselves off the hook of doing the work to understand them or love them, or be open to anything they might want to say or share. Life is about connection, I truly believe that, and intolerance is the opposite of connection. Sometimes it’s good to examine where you’re intolerant. Maybe it’s with certain aspects of yourself. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a belief system, so don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying I think it’s important to make sure we aren’t clinging so hard to what we believe, we’re blinding ourselves.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Attachment

Mostly-it-is-loss-whichAttachment leads to suffering, this is a fact of life. To the extent that we are attached to a particular outcome, we are also setting ourselves up for possible disappointment, heartbreak, or incomprehensible grief, and yet, if you’re going to live life fully, I don’t believe there’s any way around some attachment. You’re going to be attached to the people you love beyond words. You’re going to be attached to the idea that you can hug them and laugh with them and hear their voices. You’re going to be attached to their good health. You’re going to be attached to the idea that they live life in a way that feels good to them. If they’re taken from you, or you’re taken from them, suffering is inevitable. When we love, we make ourselves vulnerable, but not loving is not living, not really. So suffering is part of the human experience.

You can certainly limit and lessen the amount you’ll suffer. You don’t have to allow yourself to be attached to a pair of shoes, or the idea that you’re going to marry someone you’ve known for two weeks. You don’t have to allow yourself to be so attached to your ideas and opinions, you alienate the people who love you most. You don’t have to allow yourself to be attached to being “right”, or winning every argument, or being seen as infallible. You can mitigate the amount you suffer by practicing non-attachment and curiosity. I say it all the time when I’m teaching. “Keep breathing consciously, and try to stay curious about your experience.” That’s a great way to move through life, too, right? Staying present, and allowing things to unfold. It feels a lot better than grasping, or manipulating, or trying to force or control. Entering a relationship that way is ideal. Just being receptive and awake and aware, and seeing how things go. Opening yourself to the experience of getting to know someone, so you can see if it’s a good fit, whether we’re talking about a new friend, or a romantic interest, or a potential business partner, rather than projecting a whole set of ideals that may or may not be there.

When we come from need, we’re not in the power seat, circumstances are. If things go the way we want them to, we’ll be happy, and if they don’t, we’ll be miserable. We are now at the mercy of things outside ourselves, over which we have no control. The only thing you can hope to control is yourself, and even that isn’t easy. You can’t dictate what other people will do, or say, or want, or need. You can’t pick and choose the experiences life is going to put in your path, but you can work on the way you respond to what it is you’re given; there’s a lot of power in that.

If you pursue your passion, for example, that thing that lights you up, that sets your soul on fire, it may not make you rich, but what a great use of your time, your energy and your gifts. When you allow yourself to be pulled, deeply, by what you love, you live. It may hurt, it may not unfold exactly the way you hope, but at least you’re on fire, you’re lighting it up. I’d take that any day over apathy, lethargy, or boredom.

When you love the people in your life with everything you’ve got, when you love out loud, that just feels so good, to you, to them, it’s just a great use of your heart. To the extent that you do that, you may also suffer. Nothing hurts more than the gaping hole that’s left when we lose someone we love, no matter what you believe. I would say, do the part you can, give everything you’ve got. Say out loud what’s in your heart regularly, so there’s no doubt in your mind that the people in your life know how you feel, and there’s no doubt in their minds, either. Let the reality that we don’t know how much time we have with the people we love, inspire you, not terrify you. Be smart about your attachments, but where you’re attached, go ahead and do it fully.

Sending you so much love,

Ally Hamilton

Open Heart, Open Hands

No-one-told-me-you-canSometimes in the name of love, we seek to control. We may do this because we can see a loved one is about to head into a brick wall, and we long to save her from getting hurt. Parents do this all the time, especially with their firstborn child. It’s a natural instinct to want to protect your children from pain; if you don’t have that instinct, I worry for you and your little ones, but if a parent is always there to say “no!”, “stop!” and “don’t!”, what results is a fearful person. You don’t want to scare the curiosity out of your children, or rob them of any sense that they can trust themselves. Eventually, we all have to learn that if we run too quickly, we’re probably going to trip and fall, and it’s going to hurt. That’s how we learn.

Sometimes we see a friend stuck in a painful cycle, and we throw our hands in the air. What are they doing? How can they not realize they’re repeating this destructive pattern? How many times will we have to be there when it all falls apart? I’m not saying we shouldn’t kindly hold up a mirror when someone we love is hurting themselves, but you can’t force a person to see something they aren’t ready to see, you can’t manage another person’s journey. You never know what someone else needs in order to learn and grow and strengthen; sometimes we need painful lessons over and over again before we get it. Sometimes we have to have our hearts broken badly, until we finally say, “That’s it. Enough.”

Communication is beautiful. “I love you, and it hurts me to see you treating yourself so badly. It hurts me to see you in such a self-loathing place, because I see you so clearly, and you’re beautiful.” Say it, go ahead. Maybe, hopefully, some part of that will seep in there. Maybe a tiny little root will grow, and one day the person will start to see themselves the way you do. If you’re dealing with someone who’s harming themselves, of course do everything you can to get them help, but understand, ultimately, everyone has to do his own journey. Healing is inside work. A person has to be open to help, or no help is available.

None of us knows the interior world of another person, we only ever know what someone is willing to show us. We all have pain, some people do a better job managing their pain than others. Some people have more pain handed to them, that’s a fact. Sometimes a person is up against so much grief and despair they reach for anything to numb it, anything to avoid feeling the abyss. Desperation and loneliness and a certain kind of personality, along with possible trauma, a person’s resiliency, and so many other factors can lead to the kind of numbing that’s hard to comprehend. No one wants to be addicted to something that has the potential to ruin or end their lives. Addicts are prisoners of the object of their desire. They get hijacked by it. They’re owned. Their pain owns them, and the agent that numbs the pain owns them. Unless they find the enormous will and strength and love for themselves to fight back, and even then, it takes a Herculean effort, a lot of support, and a decision every day to choose love, to choose health, to choose freedom. Sometimes people just don’t win the fight. It’s heartbreaking. Addiction robs us of so much beauty.

Have you ever been in a destructive, abusive relationship that you wanted to end, but you just couldn’t find the strength? You just weren’t feeling good enough about yourself to say, “F&ck this. I don’t deserve this”? Maybe you tried to end it a bunch of times, but the pull was so strong, you found yourself dialing that number, even when every part of your being was screaming, “No!” It’s not easy being a human being. It can be gorgeous and beautiful and wildly interesting, but it isn’t easy. Love the people in your life. I mean, really love them. Honor them, cherish them, see them, hear them, support their growth and their joy. That’s all you can do, and sometimes, you’ll have to do it from afar if someone you love is hurting themselves and won’t be stopped. Don’t ever think a person is choosing between you and a drug, and that you must not mean much to them if they’re choosing a drug over you. You’re not even in the fight. You’re not in the mix. It’s not about you, so don’t get confused. You’ve been left on the shore. They’re out to sea with this thing, fighting for their lives. You’re outside the thing, so try to grasp that. How much they love you has nothing to do with it. It’s how much they’re able to care about themselves. May all beings be free from suffering.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Home

We tend to think of “home” as the house or apartment where we grew up, and “family” as the people with whom we share a bloodline; those people who were in that house or apartment before we got there. See also: those people who were supposed to love us and protect us and nurture us. When it works out that way, it’s ideal and such a gift, but it doesn’t work out that way for so many people.

There are tons of variables; trauma and abuse can be passed down from one generation to the next. If a person grew up in an unsafe environment, that’s what they know, and that feels like home. The pull to recreate that familiar feeling can be strong, especially when there hasn’t been an opportunity to heal. So sometimes home is a scary place, and family are the people you maneuver around as you try to stay safe. In a case like that, the longing for home, the desire to be loved and seen and heard can feel like some kind of mystery to be solved. Isn’t it funny how we can yearn for things we’ve never had, and miss people we’ve never met?

Anything unhealed within you wants your kind attention. We long for closure and resolution, but underneath that what we’re really wanting is peace. We want to know we’re worthy of love. There are those lucky people who’ve never had to question that, because love is all they’ve known; it’s not common, but it does happen. Someone who is raised knowing they’re treasured and cherished is likely to have an easier time with later heartbreaks. They still hurt, of course, but the person isn’t as likely to question whether there’s something at their very core that’s unlovable, something about them that makes it easy to leave, neglect or abuse them. A person who is securely attached to his or her parents and siblings isn’t as likely to take rejection as proof that he or she is really disposable, after all, but a person who’s never felt loved, who struggles to trust and be vulnerable, can take a heartbreak as that final blow. As if it’s up to someone else to determine their worth.

Roughly thirty-seven trillion cells come together to make up a human being. They’ll never come together in that way again, and they never have before; that’s a miracle in my book, scientific or otherwise. We arrive here needing to be held and fed and clothed and rocked and soothed. We come here needing each other, we go out needing each other, and in between, you can bet we need each other. I truly feel our purpose here is to love — to open, to grow, to heal, to learn, to strengthen and blossom and share whatever we’ve got with each other; to dig until we uncover that limitless well of love within us, so we can spread it as we move through our days. Home is inside you. It’s not a place, although you may feel attached to the house you grew up in if you were happy there. The bonds between family members can be strong, but that doesn’t always mean they’re healthy; sometimes you have to negotiate your boundaries. Sometimes you have to love people from afar in order to love yourself well, and sometimes you have to create a family of your own, with those people who’ve shown you what love looks like. Ultimately, you want to feel at home inside yourself, comfortable in your own skin.

When life throws you a curve-ball, you want to know you can catch it. You want to have your own back. You want to know how to root for yourself. You want to be able to nurture and cherish your particular thirty-seven trillion cells. “Home” might be something you have to create out of your imagination, you may not have a frame of reference for it, but home is inside you. You can visit any time you like.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

The Snack Bar

A couple of days ago I received an email from a man who’s in agony; last week he had a terrible fight with his father. He’s been working for his dad for years, in the family business. He started over the summers when he was in high school, and went right to work full-time when he graduated from college. He and his dad have always been close. His dad coached him through Little League, cheered him on through high school, and never missed any of his college games. They went camping in the summers, and skiing in the winters.

People have always commented about how close they are, but they’re also both passionate and stubborn, and have had a hard time apologizing to each other over the years. He said once they’d gotten into it, and hadn’t spoken for a month. His mother was miserable, caught in the middle and unable to make headway with either of them. He was playing baseball at this point, and he had the last game of the season this particular weekend. He and his dad had spent another week gruffly and pointedly ignoring each other. He saw his mom and sisters and little brother in the stands at his game, but no dad. His team won, but he said he felt kind of dead inside because his dad hadn’t been there to see it. Except he had. His uncle told him later in the week that his dad had driven with him separately and they had stood next to the snack bar watching. When his team won, his dad had punched the air in victory, turned, and walked off to the car. He told me at that point, he’d gone and found his dad in his office. He said he walked in, and at first his dad just looked at him, kind of guarded, and then he said, “Dad, I’m sorry”, and his old man started crying. Two big guys hugging it out in the middle of the office, and it was forgotten.

Anyway, they hadn’t let that happen again until last week. He’s gotten older, and so has his father, and he’s really tried to work on staying calm when he feels angry. That month they didn’t speak was hard on the whole family, and he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let that happen twice, but it isn’t easy when tempers flare, and working for his dad makes it tougher, still. He said any time he’d try to do things a little differently than his dad had been doing them for years, pops took it like a judgment against himself, as if his son was questioning him, or suggesting he was losing his edge or getting old, or that he was, “not with the times.” So they had a blow up and he said a bunch of things to his dad that he wishes he could un-say, and he stormed off. A few hours later his uncle called and said they were on the way to the hospital. His dad had a heart attack. By the time they got to the hospital, it was already over, and he can’t take it back. He can’t undo the last conversation, he can’t tell his dad he’s sorry, he can’t make things right.

I guarantee you, and I guaranteed him, things are right, they really are. His dad knew he loved him, there’s zero doubt in my mind about that. We all have conversations we’d like to do over again, things we regret saying. This is a tough one, when there’s no way to go and look the person in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for a lot of what I said. I didn’t mean it, and I love you.” It’s hard to bear a last conversation that was heated and full of “you always”, and “you never”, but we’re all human, and we are not going to operate from our highest selves in every moment. Part of him is scared he caused the heart attack by yelling at his father, even though admittedly, his dad had high blood pressure, a diet that wasn’t great, and a habit of sneaking cigarettes at work. He’d often go home and have a glass of bourbon after dinner. All things his doctor had been warning him about for years because there’s a history of heart disease in the family. All things his wife had been worried about, as well, and the reason he smoked at work and not at home.

Sometimes in life, your work is to forgive yourself for being human, which sounds crazy, right? I mean, what else could you be? Not everything is always going to be resolved and perfect with all the people in your life, and we all have a finite time to be here; we all have unknown expiration dates. Of course you want to let that reality seep into your bones, so that as much as possible, you let the people in your life know how you feel. So you don’t allow things to build up or unravel for too long. Ideally, you get to a point where you observe your feelings as they arise without acting on them, but if you have one conversation with someone one day, after a history of love and laughter and joy and being there, and yes, tears and misunderstandings and fights sometimes, (because that’s what most relationships look like over the long haul), believe me, one conversation isn’t going to take all that away. You can trust that the people who love you well and deeply, know your heart. You can trust that they’re standing by the snack bar cheering you on, even when you can’t see them and don’t know they’re there. Some things in life you have to carry, and some things you have to let go. Figuring out which is which is one of the great keys to your own peace.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

Icehole Alert!

iceholeFor many people this time of year is loaded with triggers and painful memories, with the desire for something lost, or something yet to be experienced. We have this Norman Rockwell image of “how things should look”. And there are people who do a decent impression from the outside, but every family has its stuff. Because every family is made up of people, and people are complex and vulnerable. Often confused and scared and motivated by their own desires, sometimes unknown even to themselves. But if you’re feeling alone already, there’s nothing like the idea that everyone else has this safe haven, this warm fold in which they’ll be embraced and understood, heard and celebrated, to make you feel like the loneliest person on earth. Few things get us in greater trouble than the picture in our head of how things should be. Things are as they are.

If you talk to people with happy families about heading home for the holidays, they’ll still roll their eyes and let you know they’ll need to sneak away to do their yoga in order to stay sane. And those are the lucky ones. There are people who don’t want to go home, because home sends them back in time, to when they were fifteen, feeling belligerent and powerless all at once. Grown adults with children of their own can revert back to bickering with their siblings like they’re reading from a tattered, ancient script. Old competition for attention or affection can rise to the surface, and even those who’ve done lots of work on themselves can be thrown off center.

There are people with nowhere to go, because going home just isn’t an option. I have a friend whose parents won’t accept the fact that he married his boyfriend. He’s not welcome home. I can’t wrap my head around that. You have a child. Your child is healthy and happy, or trying to be. It’s not easy when your own parents reject you, no matter how much work you do to be okay with it. But sometimes you simply have to make your own family. Just pick the people who know how to love you for who you are. And learn to live with the pain in your heart that the people who brought you into this world can only love you and accept you if you do what they want you to do. If you feel and think the way they want you to feel and think. If you want what they think you should want. That isn’t love. Those are people who don’t understand how to do it. And it’s an incredibly sad loss for them and for you. But it’s not a reflection on you, it’s on them. Let’s drink to that, shall we? Raise a little non-alcoholic, or regular, or vegan eggnog and toast that idea.

And don’t get me wrong. There are people who love going home. People who have healthy relationships with their parents and their siblings. Once in awhile, a couple of people come together, and they figure out how to make it work. How to see each other and hear each other, and feed the love between them so it grows. People who guard and prioritize their love because they understand what a gift it is. When that happens, you have the foundation for something amazing. When you start bringing other people into a mix like that, you’ve got the makings of a happy family. You may not have had one growing up, but you can create one if you want to. My point is, much of our pain comes from our own thoughts. Not all of it; there are things in this world that can just gut you. But a lot of the things we suffer over are our own creation. Our own fantasy of how things are for other people, and how much we don’t have that in our own lives.

I would say compassion for yourself is the number one gift you want in your stocking if you’re having a tough time this year. If you’re spending the holidays on your own, and the sight of people bustling around humming holiday songs to themselves, or cutting you off in traffic on their way to the mall for that last gift is depressing you beyond words, give yourself the gift of some yoga. In fact, I’ll give it to you. Sign up here if you’d like a free 15-day trial to practice yoga with me and all of our amazing teachers. Sneak away from your drunk Aunt Marge, fire up your laptop, and center yourself. Because creating some space between your thoughts is often a lifesaver when you’re in a mental tailspin. It’s like hitting the reset button, so your attention and awareness shift away from what you don’t have, and back to what you do have. The feeling of lack, of longing, is so painful and debilitating. It makes us feel sick. The feeling of gratitude is so beautiful. When you start to focus on anything that is right and good, like maybe your health if you have it, or the love of at least one person who really knows you, or a place to call home, or food in your refrigerator, or the ability to watch the sunrise or set, or to take a deep breath, or go look at the ocean, or hear the laugh of a little kid and remember yourself at that age, your tender heart and your curiosity and your belief in yourself and in other people, your expectation that the world would be a safe place–if you can get a hold of any of that, even for an instant, you can start to feed it.

Don’t let your past hold you hostage. Also, you’re not alone. Really, you’re not. We’ve all had holiday seasons that tested us and made us feel small and scared and sad. It’s called being human. Don’t let it make you hard and closed. Let it soften you. Let it soften your heart so you can be kind to yourself. So you can acknowledge and hold the feelings of heartache or despair or rage or resentment. If you lean into them you’ll see they won’t kill you. Avoiding them could, because that’s when you have to back yourself into a little corner and squeeze your eyes shut, and cover your ears and hold your breath. Let it be how it is, because how it is now is not how it will always be. Sending you love, and hoping you’re having a beautiful holiday season, but letting you know there are people who care if you aren’t. In case you weren’t sure. Ally Hamilton

Water Your Plants

Any living thing you feed will grow and strengthen, and anything you starve will die. This includes relationships. If you don’t put any effort or energy into it, it won’t sustain itself, and that happens all the time; that’s why our divorce rate is so incredibly high. A relationship is a living, breathing thing that exists in the space between two people. It’s a third thing, a singular creation that could never have occurred without the intersection of two particular lives.

I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, but also familial ones, close friendships, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers. Two people come together and each one contributes something. If you put your boredom, frustrations, rage, thoughtlessness or fear into the space between you and another person, that’s a choice you’re making. No one is perfect, and no one is going to choose well, or operate from their highest selves in every moment. Sometimes we’ll regret our contribution. That’s when the words, “I’m sorry, I blew it” are brilliant. If you’re in pain, chances are you’ll spill some of that into the space between you and the people in your life. You won’t mean to do that, it’s just natural that we spread whatever is within us. This is why your healing process is so critical. It’s not just something you do so you can be a peace within yourself, it’s a gift you give to everyone you encounter. When you’re filled with love, you’ll spill that, too and you won’t have to be sorry about it.

The thing is, it’s easy to point fingers and hard to look in the mirror sometimes. You can blame the other party if things aren’t going well, or you can choose to try adding something new to the mix. Maybe your lover or friend or mother or brother has been careless with you, or neglectful or cruel. If we’re talking about abuse, you create as much physical and emotional space as you can between you and the person who’s in that kind of pain. Short of that, you could just try a different approach. You can teach people how you want to be treated by example. You could plan something special for no reason, even if you feel the other person doesn’t deserve it. Sometimes we shut ourselves down or close ourselves off. We erect barriers because the pain has become so great we don’t know what else to do but defend ourselves against it. Walls shut out the love, too. They close off the possibility for understanding, connection, intimacy. That’s not sustainable; being in a relationship where you feel unseen, unheard and unloved is so much worse than being on your own, but sometimes we give up too soon, and miss a huge opportunity to grow.

Growth hurts. This is why we have the term “growing pains.” Blame is easy. Making ourselves right, feeling victimized, bitter, resentful, those are all stances we can choose to take, but curling up with your righteousness isn’t comforting. Making yourself powerless is draining, not inspiring. You can’t control other people, or save them or make them happy. Each person has to do her or his own journey, but you can grab someone’s attention by doing something loving and unexpected, and maybe they’ll feel so grateful, they’ll see it doesn’t take much, and they’ll grab your attention next time. That’s generally a better way to go than a constant stream of criticism. Most people will not be able to take that in after awhile. Instead of listening to you with the intent to understand, they’ll shut down or storm off or go on the defensive, and you might have discovered people on the defensive have their hands up. They don’t outstretch their arms. I’m not saying you shouldn’t communicate honestly, because of course you need to do that. I’m just saying if that hasn’t been working, try something else, something completely different. Just to see. We all just want to feel like at least one person is getting us. At least one person has our back, accepts our flaws, celebrates our beauty, cherishes us. Of course we can all have at least one person in ourselves, but connection between two people is some of the best stuff in life.

When people stop feeding the space between them it becomes empty. The roots dry up, and the plant shrivels and dies. There’s no bond left, eventually. There’s just painful history, defense mechanisms, anger, justifications, and attachments to a particular version of the story of what went wrong, and it isn’t easy to come back together at that point. It won’t save every relationship, but the more you decide to offer love, the more it will blossom up around you. You can’t control what other people will want or say or do, but you can work on the way you show up, and what is is you give. You have a gorgeous heart that was built for love. If you’ve erected walls around it, you can tear them down, too.

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3